Japan: Tokyo University Gets The HUG!

Yesterday I began my final day of sharing HUG Your Baby with Japanese professionals. Though a shorter visit than I had at Kagawa University or St. Luke's International University, the time I spent at Tokyo University (with faculty and graduate students in Midwifery and Women's Health) was equally enjoyable and stimulating.

Tokyo University, referred to by some as the "Harvard of Japan," has been well known as a center of teaching and research since its inception in 1877. Our time here begins as midwives and Ph.D. graduate students, Sayaka Ashida and Kaori Yonezawa, give us a tour of their beloved campus.

We speak with them about their work as midwives, their passion for researching the medical care provided to mothers and their babies, and their hopes to eventually enter the world of academics as researchers and professors. They appreciate the HUG t-shirts (with Japanese sub-titles) that I brought from home for all organizers of HUG trainings.

As I walk around Tokyo University I continue to wonder about the importance of the little things I notice here. Today I am struck once again by the simple fact that mothers in Japan "wear their babies." Though my experience is clearly limited, I see baby slings of various styles, shapes and colors everywhere. On Sunday afternoon, when fathers are out for a stroll with the family, a stroller is often present carrying a bag while either mother or father happily tote a baby or larger toddler around the city. Even when I visit a hospital, to which mothers drive to from a distance, I never once see a mom carry her infant in a car seat. I spoke with one faculty member about American mothers' persistent habit of carrying babies around in their car seats, as ergonomically inappropriate as this is. She is surprised, and appalled. "It is so much easier for the mother, and better for the baby, to be in a sling or in mother's arms!"

The other thing I notice and wonder about is bowing. I have grown to LOVE bowing when greeting another. It seems like such a kind and respectful way to connect without physical touch. (Unlike the sometimes vigorous handshake of ladies in America, a bow is often followed by a gentle, almost vanishing, handshake with the women I meet here.)  The woman and man who load our luggage into the shuttle bus bow low as the bus takes off. I observe an electrician speaking to a plumber at a construction site; both men bow, hard hat to hard hat. Nurses bow when we met, when I complete a presentation, and before they ask a follow-up question one-on-one. I like the feeling a bow communicates. It relaxes me and makes me feel accepted here.

Though Tokyo University, like the other two universities I visited in Japan, has sophisticated lecture hall audio-visual equipment, I experience the same lack of success when I try to get my Macintosh presentation to "talk to" to the PC systems used by Japanese academics. Undeterred, I turned to my 3 inch by 3 inch Brownstone projector and tiny speakers to make my presentation here as I have done in other locations.

Though wording on all my HUG PowerPoint slides is in Japanese, and I plan to show my translated HUG DVD, I am surprised to be asked to make my presentation at Tokyo University in English, without a translator. I immediately miss the pace I had grown accustomed to of making a statement in English and having 30 seconds to plan my next statement while the translation occurs! As an American with a deficit in learning foreign languages, I can only imagine the effort it must take to try to understand new concepts as one's brain is busy translating foreign words. So I make an effort to be precise and clear in my descriptions of The HUG, my story-telling, and my discussions about the potential for HUG Your Baby's use in Japan.

With a smaller group of participants at this gathering, I am easily drawn into the interactive mode of teaching--techniques, I am told later, that are not commonly used by teachers in Japan. At first I ask Jim to "volunteer" to demonstrate the three "Body SOSs--Signs of Over-Stimulation" (changes in movement, color or breathing) and the three "Behavioral SOSs" ("Spacing Out," "Switching Off," and "Shutting Down"). The group is then asked to identify the SOS that Jim (as "baby") portrays. Then Jim plays a nurse who is helping me (a mother) understand the difference between deep and light sleep. Participants write down their responses to this exercise.

Next, this group of professionals are asked to take turns being "the nurse," as they practice explaining an SOS to their colleague (in the role of "the mother"). There is only a moment of awkward hesitation before the room breaks into active role-playing and fun-filled efforts to accomplish the task at hand.

Questions following my presentation focus quickly around issues of research, as many nurses describe their work and how HUG Your Baby might be used and studied.

One nurse is researching interventions used in postpartum depression. Do I think The HUG might be useful here? ("Yes, I think so!"). Another faculty member is taken with the research that is underway with undergraduate nursing students at University of North Carolina. Do I think Japanese undergraduate students might benefit from HUG Your Baby training?  ("Please try, and let me know.")  A Community nurse and lecturer wonders about the possible use of the translated HUG DVD with a group of new mothers. ("Wouldn't it be fun to collect feedback from mothers watching The HUG DVD for the first time?") Another member of the midwifery faculty is interested in how The HUG was used in a NICU setting. ("I will put you in touch with the author of that research.") [CLICK HERE for a link to HUG Your Baby research both completed and underway.]

You've heard it said that something looks "too good to eat."  So I take a picture, and then eat, eat, eat it ALL at the remarkable restaurant where Tokyo University faculty and students have generously taken us to dinner. Conversations with Jim and me continue around various research projects and HUG concepts.

But, numerous other conversations among our Tokyo hosts are energetically underway on subjects Jim and I can only guess about as we try (and enjoy!) "brown sake" for the first time ever!